Dr. Thomas Dwan - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Thomas Dwan

Is Tartar Sauce Bad For You?



Short answer

Tartar sauce, when consumed in moderation, isn't bad for you but it's important to be aware of its high fat and sodium content. Store-bought versions often contain additives and preservatives that may have health implications, and while homemade sauce provides ingredient control, it can still be calorie-dense and high in saturated fat. Alternatives with healthier fats and no added sugars or preservatives are better options for frequent consumption.



Recommended Alternative

Long answer

Caloric Content and Fat Composition of Tartar Sauce

Tartar sauce is a creamy condiment typically used as a dipping sauce for seafood dishes such as fish and chips. While it's beloved for its tangy flavor, it's also important to consider its nutritional makeup when adding it to your meals, especially caloric content and fat composition.

The caloric content of tartar sauce can vary depending on the brand and recipe. Commercially prepared tartar sauce contains approximately 140 to 150 calories per two-tablespoon serving. However, homemade versions or those made in restaurants could have slightly different values, so it's always wise to check the specific nutritional information provided when available.

The primary source of calories in tartar sauce is from fat. This is because its base ingredients often include mayonnaise, which is made from oil and egg yolks. Below is a breakdown of the typical fat composition found in a two-tablespoon serving of store-bought tartar sauce:

  • Total Fat: Around 12 to 15 grams
  • Saturated Fat: 1.5 to 2.5 grams
  • Unsaturated Fat: The majority of the remaining fat content is unsaturated, including both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
  • Trans Fat: Most brands have phased out the use of partially hydrogenated oils, and thus, trans fat content is typically negligible or zero.

Unsaturated fats, which are present in tartar sauce, are considered a healthier type of fat when consumed in moderation. They can help reduce cholesterol levels and provide essential fatty acids that are beneficial for heart health. However, the presence of saturated fats means that tartar sauce should be consumed in moderation, as high intake of saturated fats can contribute to heart disease.

For individuals following a calorie-restricted or low-fat diet, consuming tartar sauce may require careful consideration. Light or reduced-fat versions of tartar sauce are available in the market, which typically contain fewer calories and less fat compared to the traditional versions. These might be a more suitable option for those watching their fat intake.

It's also worth noting that homemade tartar sauce can be made with alternative ingredients like low-fat mayonnaise or Greek yogurt, which can significantly decrease the overall calorie and fat content while still providing a similar texture and flavor.

The table below summarizes the typical caloric content and fat composition of tartar sauce per two-tablespoon serving:

Nutrient Amount
Calories 140-150
Total Fat 12-15g
Saturated Fat 1.5-2.5g
Trans Fat 0g

Remember that the context in which tartar sauce is consumed matters. When paired with already high-calorie and high-fat foods like deep-fried fish, the cumulative effect on caloric intake and fat consumption becomes more significant.

As with all foods, moderation is key. Being mindful of serving sizes and the overall balance of your diet can help manage the potential impact of tartar sauce on your health and dietary goals.

Presence of Sodium and Its Health Implications

One of the significant considerations when assessing the health impact of tartar sauce is its sodium content. Sodium is a mineral essential for maintaining water balance and nerve function in the body. However, excessive intake can have adverse health effects, particularly for those with certain medical conditions or dietary sensitivities. Let's delve into the sodium content in tartar sauce and its potential health implications.

Sodium Content in Tartar Sauce

Commercially prepared tartar sauces can vary in sodium levels, but a typical serving of 2 tablespoons contains about 200 to 400 milligrams. This amount can contribute significantly to your daily sodium intake, which should not exceed 2,300 milligrams per day according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. For individuals with hypertension, heart disease, or kidney problems, the American Heart Association recommends an even lower limit of 1,500 milligrams per day.

Health Risks of Excessive Sodium Intake

  • Hypertension: High sodium consumption is strongly linked to the development of hypertension (high blood pressure), a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
  • Heart Disease: A diet high in sodium can lead to increased blood pressure, which can strain the heart, and potentially contribute to heart disease.
  • Kidney Damage: Excessive sodium can put extra pressure on the kidneys, impairing their ability to filter waste, leading to kidney disease over time.
  • Osteoporosis: There is evidence to suggest that high sodium intake may lead to increased calcium loss through urine, which could adversely affect bone health.
  • Fluid Retention: Sodium can cause the body to retain water, leading to swelling and bloating, which may be discomforting and indicative of an underlying imbalance.

Factors Influencing Sodium Sensitivity

Individual response to sodium can vary dramatically. Some people, known as "salt-sensitive," may experience more pronounced health effects from sodium consumption than others. Factors influencing sodium sensitivity include genetics, age, ethnicity, and health status. It is crucial for those at higher risk of sodium-related health issues to monitor their tartar sauce intake as part of their broader dietary sodium consumption.

Reducing Sodium in Tartar Sauce

For those who are concerned about the sodium content in tartar sauce, there are steps that can be taken to reduce its impact:

  • Preparing homemade tartar sauce allows control over the amount of salt used.
  • Seeking out low-sodium or sodium-free versions of ingredients, such as pickles or mayonnaise.
  • Using alternative seasonings like herbs and spices to enhance flavor without adding salt.
  • Being mindful of portion sizes to keep sodium intake in check.

It's worth noting that existing scientific research indicates the importance of balance and moderation when it comes to sodium intake. While too much can be harmful, too little sodium can also lead to health issues. The key is consuming it in appropriate amounts that align with individual health needs and dietary guidelines.

Beyond the focus on sodium, examining tartar sauce's overall nutritional profile is essential to determine its place in a balanced diet. By doing so, individuals can make informed choices about including tartar sauce in their meals and understand its potential impact on their health.

Additives and Preservatives in Commercial Tartar Sauce

When considering whether tartar sauce is bad for you, it's crucial to examine the additives and preservatives commonly found in commercial brands. These substances are added to enhance flavor, appearance, and shelf life but may have health implications.

Common Additives in Tartar Sauce:

  • High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS): Often used as a sweetener in place of sugar, HFCS has been associated with obesity, diabetes, and fatty liver disease when consumed in excess over time.
  • Modified Food Starch: This is used as a thickening agent but can be derived from various sources, some of which may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.
  • Xanthan Gum: Another thickener, xanthan gum is generally safe but can cause gastrointestinal symptoms in some people.
  • Artificial Colors: These may be included to make the sauce more visually appealing but have been linked to behavioral issues in children and potential carcinogenic effects.
  • Sodium Benzoate: Used as a preservative, sodium benzoate can convert to benzene, a known carcinogen, under certain conditions such as heat and light exposure.

How Additives Affect Health:

Additives and preservatives in tartar sauce may exert subtle influences on health, particularly if consumed regularly. For example, HFCS can contribute to increased caloric intake without the feeling of satiety, potentially leading to weight gain. Artificial colors have been under scrutiny for their potential effects on children's behavior, mainly hyperactivity. Preservatives like sodium benzoate can raise concerns linked to its interaction with vitamin C, potentially forming benzene, a compound with cancer-related risks.

It's essential to note that while these additives are approved for use by food safety authorities and generally recognized as safe within certain limits, some consumers might choose to limit their exposure due to personal sensitivities or a precautionary approach to food additives.

Expert Opinions:

Experts often recommend moderate consumption of foods containing additives, guiding consumers toward more natural and whole food options when available. According to a compilation of studies from the Journal of Food Science, the long-term effects of many food additives are still not fully understood, and further research is necessary to establish definitive safety profiles.

Reading Labels:

Being an informed consumer involves scrutinizing product labels to identify these additives and preservatives. Look for tartar sauce brands that use minimal and recognizable ingredients, which can be a healthier alternative to those loaded with artificial components. Alternatively, consider making homemade tartar sauce using fresh ingredients to fully control what you consume.

Bottom Line:

While commercial tartar sauce is suitable for consumption in moderation, being mindful of the additives and preservatives it contains is essential for those who are cautious about their food choices or have specific health concerns.

Homemade Tartar Sauce: Pros and Cons for Health

When considering whether homemade tartar sauce is a boon or bane for your health, it's vital to dissect the ingredients typically used in its preparation and understand how each component contributes to the overall nutritional profile. Let's dive into the pros and cons of making your own tartar sauce from a health perspective.

Pros of Homemade Tartar Sauce

  • Control Over Ingredients: The most significant advantage of making tartar sauce at home is the ability to choose high-quality, fresh ingredients. This means you can avoid preservatives and additives often found in commercial versions.
  • Adaptability for Dietary Needs: Homemade recipes can be adjusted to suit dietary restrictions, such as using low-fat mayonnaise for those watching their calorie intake or substituting traditional ingredients with plant-based alternatives for vegans.
  • Reduction of Sodium: Store-bought sauces can be high in sodium, while homemade tartar sauce allows you to control the salt content, which is beneficial for maintaining healthy blood pressure levels.
  • Potential Inclusion of Health-Enhancing Ingredients: Adding ingredients like fresh herbs can provide additional antioxidants and nutrients, while opting for yogurt in place of mayonnaise can improve the sauce's probiotic content.

Cons of Homemade Tartar Sauce

  • High in Calories: Even homemade tartar sauce can be calorie-dense, primarily due to the mayonnaise base. This could be a concern for individuals on calorie-restricted diets.
  • Saturated Fat Content: Mayonnaise is rich in saturated fats, which can contribute to elevated cholesterol levels when consumed in excess.
  • Hidden Sugars: Recipes often call for sweet relish or added sugars, which might raise the sauce's glycemic index and could be an issue for individuals with diabetes or those trying to limit sugar intake.
  • Food Safety Considerations: Homemade sauces typically lack the preservatives that extend the shelf life of commercial products, which means they need to be consumed faster to prevent spoilage and potential foodborne illness.

Incorporating expert opinions, such as those from the American Heart Association, can help understand the impact of homemade tartar sauce on heart health due to its fat content. Additionally, studies such as those published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics provide insight into the consequences of added sugars in condiments on overall dietary quality.

By weighing these pros and cons, individuals can make informed decisions about including homemade tartar sauce in their diet. When making homemade tartar sauce, it's crucial to be mindful of portion sizes and the balance of ingredients to maximize health benefits and minimize potential risks.

Frequently asked questions

Tartar sauce made with unsaturated fats, like those from olive oil-based mayonnaise, can offer cardiovascular benefits when consumed in moderation. Unsaturated fats can help lower bad cholesterol levels and are considered a better dietary choice for heart health compared to saturated fats.

Tartar sauce is generally keto-friendly, considering its high fat and low carbohydrate content. However, keto dieters should choose versions with no added sugars or make their own with keto-compatible ingredients, as certain commercial brands may contain sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup which could disrupt ketosis.

Tartar sauce may contain cholesterol due to its mayonnaise base, which includes egg yolks—an ingredient high in cholesterol. The actual amount will vary depending on the recipe or brand. It's advisable for those monitoring their cholesterol intake to check the label or opt for recipes that use low-cholesterol alternatives.

Yes, to reduce the fat content in homemade tartar sauce, you can substitute full-fat mayonnaise with a low-fat or fat-free version, or use Greek yogurt as a healthier alternative. This substitution will retain the creamy texture while lowering the overall fat content.

Ask a question about Tartar Sauce and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • bloating
  • gastrointestinal discomfort

Possible long-term side effects

  • increased cholesterol
  • hypertension
  • heart disease
  • kidney damage
  • osteoporosis
  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • fatty liver disease

Ingredients to be aware of


  • essential fatty acids
  • reduced cholesterol (unsaturated fats)
  • customizable nutrient content (homemade)

Healthier alternatives

  • low-fat mayonnaise
  • greek yogurt
  • low-sodium ingredients
  • fresh herbs
  • natural spices

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Primal Kitchen Sauces

  • Made with real ingredients
  • Includes tartar sauce
  • Organic cocktail sauce
  • No artificial additives
  • Entertaining essentials
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 01-22-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 01-22-2024

Random Page

Check These Out!